The sexual abuse scandal was real and hurt people. “Scandal” is the key word in that it pushed victims away from the Church they trusted and the wider public as well. It was not a failure of the Church founded and protected by Christ until the end of time, but rather sinful acts by individual members and poor judgment by others.
Enemies of the Church have used this scandal to diminish her influence to the great loss of many. The Church is hated for remaining true to Christ on moral issues such as abortion, divorce and homosexuality. Because of this, these enemies keep even decades old cases in the news while ignoring much more common sexual scandals outside the Church (e.g. Forgotten Study: Abuse in School 100 Times Worse than by Priests).
When a priest is merely accused of such crimes, whenever the claim has any possibility of being true (however remote), they have been quickly convicted by the media and subsequently by their influenced juries. Often these priests are abandoned early by their bishop and the alleged victim paid significant “damages”. This attracts many con-artists who could not care less about truth or the harm they cause on innocent priests and the Church. This has NOT been rare. You might be surprised how often it happens (ref e.g. False Accusations of Sexual Abuse Can Leave Lasting Scars, *FACT CHECKER* SNAP and the TRUTH About False Abuse Accusations Against Priests or Catholic Priests Falsely Accused: The Facts, The Fraud, The Stories).
The reality for falsely accused priests is that they must prove their innocence more than the state must prove their guilt. Priests can be convicted on nothing more than the (well coached) claims of an alleged victim. You should find that shocking.
Falsely accused priests are strongly pressured to accept plea deals admitting their “guilt” in exchange for reduced charges and little or no jail time. If they accept this lie, the prosecutor chalks up another win, the media celebrates, another “proven” example can be used against the Church, and the “victim” goes on to claim their lucrative damages. This has happened many times.
Not all falsely accused priests will bend to follow this script. Some, despite the great risk, have had the audacity to insist on their innocence and fight all the powers arrayed against them. This usually ends tragically for them, resulting in DECADES of imprisonment for a crime they did not commit. A good example is Fr. Gordon MacRae, currently 22 years into his 67 year sentence (see my piece Throw away the key).
Imagine my surprise when Newsweek recently published a piece acknowledging that this happens. This is a fairly long piece (below is just a sample) on the recent Philadelphia cases in the headlines. It gives good insight to how such injustice happens.
(Warning: the Newsweek text below contains graphic language.)
The sexual assaults of Gallagher allegedly occurred during the 1998-99 and 1999-2000 school years, when he was 10 and 11 years old. From the beginning, he told an incredible, lurid story, the details of which were often changing. When he first reported his abuse to two social workers for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia on January 30, 2009, Gallagher claimed Engelhardt had accosted him after a 6:30 a.m. Mass. He said the priest plied him with sacramental wine and then anally raped him behind locked doors in the church sacristy in a brutal “ramming” attack that lasted from 7 a.m. until noon. After the rape, Gallagher claimed the priest threatened him, saying, “If you ever tell anyone, I will kill you.”
But Gallagher told Mechanick a different story, the same one he told a grand jury and at the criminal trial – that he and the priest had engaged in mutual masturbation and oral sex. Gone were the five hours of anal rape and Engelhardt’s threat to kill him.
Gallagher told the two archdiocese social workers that in the second attack Avery “punched him in the back of the head, and he fell down.” And when he woke up, “he was completely naked, and his hands were tied with altar boy sashes.” Gallagher claimed the priest then anally raped him, smacked him in the face and “made him suck all the blood off his penis.” When this vicious assault was over, Gallagher said, the priest threatened that if he ever told anybody, he would “hang him from his balls and kill him slowly.”
But when Gallagher talked to the police and testified before a grand jury, he dropped the punch in the head, as well as the claims about being tied up with altar sashes, smacked in the face and forced to suck blood. He also omitted the priest’s threat to “hang him from his balls.”
Instead, Gallagher said he’d engaged in mutual masturbation and oral sex with Avery and described a subsequent attack in which the priest forced Gallagher to perform a striptease.
Gallagher at first told the social workers that his third attacker, homeroom teacher Shero, asked him to stay after class and offered to drive him home. In the teacher’s car, Gallagher claimed, Shero punched him in the face, attempted to strangle him by wrapping a seat belt around his neck, performed oral sex on him and made Gallagher masturbate him.
Gallagher claimed that this attack took place in the parking lot of an apartment building near his home and that Shero told Gallagher if he told anyone, “I will make your life a living hell.”
But when Gallagher testified in court in 2013, he didn’t say Shero made him stay after class. This time, he said Shero pulled up across the street from a strip mall and offered him a ride home, and the attack took place in a parking lot. Gallagher dropped from this new version of his story the punch in the face, the seat belt wrapped around his neck and the threat to make his life a living hell.
It goes on like this. This fantastic, constantly shifting story without corroborative evidence (actually, there was evidence against it) was enough to send 4 good men to jail (where one priest died due to lack of medical care). It also made this con-man a multimillionaire. His lawyers did well too.
The whole article is worth your attention: Catholic guilt? The lying, scheming altar boy behind a lurid rape case.
Also interesting is Fr. MacRae’s comments on the Newsweek article at The Lying, Scheming Altar Boy on the Cover of Newsweek.
“If the world hates you, realize that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, the world would love its own; but because you do not belong to the world, and I have chosen you out of the world, the world hates you.
Remember the word I spoke to you, ‘No slave is greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you.
If they kept my word, they will also keep yours. And they will do all these things to you on account of my name, because they do not know the one who sent me. If I had not come and spoken to them, they would have no sin; but as it is they have no excuse for their sin.
Whoever hates me also hates my Father. If I had not done works among them that no one else ever did, they would not have sin; but as it is, they have seen and hated both me and my Father. But in order that the word written in their law might be fulfilled, ‘They hated me without cause.’